With Virgin, Mr. Branson has displayed remarkable staying power that is made possible only by adhering to his own carefully honed set of business values. From the winter of 1969, when as a 19-year-old wunderkind he founded his first venture – a mail- order record business, which evolved into a recording studio dubbed Virgin Records – Mr. Branson established a clear business ethos that had its genesis in the anti-establishment counterculture of the 1960’s and remained steadfast even as the company grew and Mr. Branson himself evolved from the “hippie capitalist” into a widely admired billionaire.
Writing in a British management journal, Alan Mitchell noted that Mr. Branson found his winning formula in the clashing values of the 60’s: profit versus people; money versus morality; the corporation versus the consumer; big (business) versus small (human); formal versus informal; planning versus spontaneity; conventionality versus novelty; hierarchy versus egalitarianism; secrecy versus openness. Mr. Branson always chose the humanistic path, and “yet uniquely, he’s turned these values back on business itself, forging an unexpectedly vibrant synthesis,” Mr. Mitchell wrote.
The vibrant synthesis is based on a set of five criteria that Mr. Branson has incorporated into every business he has started and every joint venture he has entered. A product or service cannot hope to bear the Virgin label unless it meets these conditions:
- It must have high quality.
- It must be innovative.
- It must provide good value for the money.
- It must be challenging to existing alternatives.
- It must have a sense of fun.
With these core values as the common thread, Mr. Branson has entered one business after another in which he perceived a customer set that was being underserved by a fat and complacent dominant player. Whereas most would avoid such elephantine competition as British Airways or Britain\’s entire financial services industry, Mr. Branson sees a “bigger, softer underbelly” that is vulnerable to attack. He calls it the “Big Bad Wolf” theory. “We look for the big bad wolves who are dramatically overcharging and underdelivering,” he explains.
Adapted from How Richard Branson Works Magic.
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